Thai chicken better than most British production, says RSPCA

Shoppers who care about animal welfare should shun standard British chicken and buy meat imported from thousands of miles away in Thailand, according to the RSPCA.

Britain's biggest animal welfare charity said that the standards in two of the biggest poultry exporters, Thailand and Brazil, were generally higher than in basic UK production.

The calls came on the same day campaigners released footage showing a "conveyor belt to death" for male chicks unwanted by the egg production industry. Vegetarian organisation Viva! said that between 30 million and 40 million chicks were killed each year in gas chambers or by being thrown into electric mincers.

The RSPCA said Thai poultry had more space – around 13 chickens per square metre compared with 20 per square metre in basic UK production – and were allowed to grow for longer, 42 days, compared to as little as 35 days here. They were also allowed more rest; six hours of continuous darkness rather than the four they have here.

Although more variable, standards in Brazil were also often better, said Dr Marc Cooper, an RSPCA farm animal welfare scientist, who visited poultry farms in Thailand last year and in Brazil this year. In an interview with The Independent, he said consumers were wrong to assume that chicken from Britain was raised to a higher standard than cheaper birds from developing countries – where land and labour cost less.

"Based on what we saw it would be safer to make the opposite assumption and say that chicken that's come from Thailand has been reared to a higher welfare standard than the standard industry chicken you would buy here," Dr Cooper said.

"It's the same for Brazil. The production there is more variable, but again, it would be incorrect to assume that the chicken that's coming in from overseas – from Brazil and Thailand – is being reared to a lower standard."

While touring Thailand's second biggest producer last year, he noticed that the birds' conditions were substantially better than their UK counterparts. "They have a very low stocking density, typically they will use natural lighting, they use a slower growing breed than is typically used here, and biosecurity is on another level," Dr Cooper said.

Supermarkets seeking cheaper supplies have dramatically increased imports of chicken into the UK, which have soared more than ten-fold in value in a decade, from £36m in 1996 to £510m last year.

Thailand is the largest non-EU importer, with sales of £292m last year, while Brazil had £30m. However most of the chicken eaten here is UK-produced.

Although negative publicity about factory farming has led to a jump in sales of organic, free-range and "higher welfare" chickens, such as Marks & Spencer's Oakham range, 80 per cent of UK production is farmed intensively in sheds containing up to 50,000 birds.

Dr Cooper said: "The UK industry always say we can't raise our birds to a higher welfare standard because we are always threatened by imports and imports are coming in at a lower welfare standard. That argument simply isn't true."

Peter Bradnock, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, said: "I don't think Marc Cooper is right".

The breeds used in Thailand were not slower growing, he said, but producers had to grow the birds slower and give them more space because sheds used natural ventilation and outside temperatures were hot.

Mr Bradnock said: "I not saying it [Thai chicken] is poor quality, nor am I saying that it's any better."

UK chickens vs Thai chickens

Space: UK: About 20 chickens per square metre.

Thailand: About 14 chickens per square metre

Breeds: UK: Fast-growing breeds such as Ross 308, whose bodies grow too large for their legs, causing lameness in some

Thailand: All of a genotype that would be marketed in the UK as "slower growing."

Rest: UK: Four hours continuous darkness a night

Thailand: Six hours continuous darkness a night

Standard UK chicken production, which accounts for 80 per cent of UK market. Source: RSPCA, Assured Chicken Production

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Ashdown Group: Print Designer - High Wycombe - Permanent £28K

    £25000 - £28000 per annum + 24 days holiday, bonus, etc.: Ashdown Group: Print...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

    £20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager

    £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager required for ...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator

    £25000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator A...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent